Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Top Five Things Never To Do At a Wedding

So I had to go to the wedding of a friend over the past weekend. Most people have a good time at such events but let me tell you, I'm not one of them. As author Raymond Chandler once said about Southern California's hot Santa Ana winds, they make my hair stand up and my skin itch. It's not that I'm opposed to weddings or marriage, far from it. Flowery sentimentalism and vulgar displays of emotion just aren't my idea of a good time. But I wanted to support my buddy Mark as he began his Last Mile, so the wedding I attended.

The event proved quite educational, mostly at my expense; as a service to you, gentle reader, so you don't make the same mistakes, I present:

(with names changed to protect the GUILTY)

ONE: Never get a ride from a couple who argues.

My friends Mike and Peggy Colusa were attending as well so I hitched a ride with them. Peggy's 80-year-old mother, known to everybody as Granny Lucy, sat in the back with me.

We're on the freeway with Mike driving and Peggy reading off directions and sniping at her husband's driving style. It turned worse as time went on and all I wanted to do was get out of the vehicle and either walk - or hitch a ride with a stranger. The dialogue went something like this:

"Did you have to cut that guy off?" she said.

"I didn't cut anybody off."

"You're an accident waiting to happen."

"OK, miss I-hit-a-car-in-a-parking-lot-at-five-miles-an-hour-and-did-$500-damage-to-the-van," he said.

"We're gonna miss - see, we missed the exit you're going so fast."

"Forget it. I know a better way."

"Through downtown?" she said.


"We'll be in traffic for an hour."

"Not at this time of morning," Mike said.

"Any time of morning!"

"Will you please just let me drive?"

"Will you please just slow down?"

Then Granny Lucy fired off three words that stunned us all.

"I miss Pa!"

Silence. I think we missed the downtown exit, Mike was so surprised. He said: "Uh, Mom.... we all miss grandpa.... but.... um..."

Granny said: "Stop yelling!"

Thus ended the argument and Mike turned around and found the exit specified in the directions. I had to smile. Methinks Granny Lucy knew exactly what she was doing.

TWO: Never complain about there not being any booze.

For the record, I don't drink very often. Why? It's a long and sordid story involving a trash compactor and a car battery and that's all I'll say. Regardless, I think the option should be available (what can't be cured with a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and a funnel?).

Did I mention we're all a bunch of Christians? Jesus freaks, Bible thumpers, whatever label you prefer. That bit is sort of important, and explains why there wasn't any booze. I learned this as I asked for a Coke. And since I'm a trouble-maker, I had to force the issue.

"Can you sweeten that a little?" I asked the barman as he filled my glass.


"You know, throw a little extra in."

He filled the glass to the top.

"No," I said, "I mean throw a little rum in it."

"No rum, sir."

"What kind of wedding is this I can't get rum in my Coke?"

"No rum, sir. Next!"

I took my glass and turned away only to find myself intercepted by a woman in a blue dress with a bobbed haircut who proceeded to holler about the evils of alcohol and how it was from the devil and did nothing but corrupt and destroy and I shouldn't touch the stuff like Jesus said.

I almost told her: "Good grief, call your sponsor if you have a problem."

I also almost said: "Lady, get off your cross because somebody in Sri Lanka needs the wood."

But my Momma didn't raise a rude boy, so I told her she was 100% right, and I'd never touch the foul stuff again, never mind that I couldn't think of a specific part of the Bible where Jesus said no alcohol and seemed to recall a part where - but never mind. My words made the woman happy. She smiled. And she walked away. Praise the Lord.

THREE: Never laugh during the toast.

The best man was saying something flowery and emotional and the bride and groom were getting weepy when my friend Greg, to whom I sat next, leaned over and showed me his soda and said: "What kind of wedding is this that I can't get any scotch?"

I let out a belly laugh. A loud one.

In the small hall we were in, the laugh echoed. I mean it bounced off the friggin' walls.

Sudden silence. Every evil eye in the house turned on me. I sank down in my chair and covered my face and Greg, to his credit, because he could have easily thrown me under the bus, raised his hand and said: "My fault."

Then the toast continued.

FOUR: Never hit on a girl under 18.

I swear, I swear, I swear, I swear she looked at least 21.

She was a willowy girl with long black hair and that's about as much as I can say without getting arrested. In a room full of mostly middle-aged folks there weren't many females my age in attendance, so when I saw her I had to make a move.

I went over and said hello and isn't this a nice wedding and how are you and all that. A perceptive young lady, was she, and the flash in her eye told me she knew more about my intentions than I probably did so when I asked her to dance she hit me with: "I can't dance with you."

Wow, that was a new one. I told her so. She leaned close, whispered: "I'm 17."

My whole body went ice cold and my hands started to shake and what I wanted to say shouldn't be said in front of a lady, underage or otherwise. I fired off a quick prayer - "What would Steve McQueen do?"

The answer came quickly. When you're stuck like this, you laugh it off like McQueen did in THE BLOB when - but never mind. See the movie. So I laughed and said: "You're kidding me."

She tilted her head to the side. "I'm sorry."

Funny thing is, she sounded like she meant it.

I said: "I'm gonna go back to my table and we'll pretend this never happened."

I stood to leave and she said: "Nice meeting you," but I hadn't even asked for her name.

Now I really needed that bottle of Walker (and don't forget the funnel), but of course there wasn't any booze and to add insult to injury another friend came up and said I saw what you did and Jesus did too and you know she's only sixteen, right?

"Seventeen," I corrected.

"What's the difference?"

"About five years," I said.

And just to prove I was an equal opportunity pervert, I went looking for Granny Lucy to see if she'd dance with me.

She did.

So there you have it. My wedding horror story. Now certain people will read this and say it didn't happen this way and I've exaggerated certain points. Horse feathers, I say! But while you decide what's true and what isn't, keep in mind the most important lesson of the day:

FIVE: Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Nice Surprise in the Email Box!

I received some terrific news in my email box yesterday, a request from Kensington Books to submit sample chapters of my novel.

Some writing pals and I worked feverishly over my query letter several months ago, because it wasn't getting any responses; I've been firing off the new version since. Twice now this new query has generated next-day responses and requests when sent via email. The first was from an agent who still has the material (in fact, I need to touch base with him since it's been about four moths and no word); the other was from Kensington yesterday to a query sent Wednesday. (For the record, there have been several nos, too, but this is the first time in a long time that a query has generated requests.) So I sent the material off and now fingers are crossed. I like the product Kensington puts out, especially in recent years; in fact, I always have enjoyed Kensington's books. When they were top dog in the men's adventure genre they published Don Pendleton's "The Executioner" and Jerry Ahern's "The Survivalist", both of which I devoured as a young man and still maintain large collections of the series. If I can be part of the organization that those authors worked with, that would be really cool.

Anyway, with the posting of my recent short story, The Red Ruby Kill at "Beat to a Pulp", and now this, I think I'm on the verge of something nice. If not, next time, for sure. Or maybe the next time after that, or the next time after that.

Like Harry Whittington (the pulp writer, not the guy Dick Cheney shot) used to say, "I persist."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Calling Michael Shayne!

We were delighted to hear that Hard Case Crime will soon publish a Michael Shayne novel, but I am somewhat surprised at the choice. I’ve always had a hit-or-miss relationship with Brett Halliday’s Mike Shayne books. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not, and his writing was so clunky it made the bad ones even worse. I never hesitate to buy a Shayne book should I come across one, but if he doesn’t have me by the neck after three chapters, it goes into a box. It’s a worthwhile investment, because when Halliday fires all 12 cylinders, he’s very good indeed. I like the Miami books better than the New Orleans adventures, but certainly don’t avoid them.

My two favorites would be Dividend on Death, or Mike Shayne #1, and This Is It, Michael Shayne. What I like about Shayne is that he’s the next best thing to Sam Spade. Shayne gives you brains-over-brawn and does his best to get one over on everybody he meets, not unlike Spade. I just wish Halliday had actually read more Hammett, because maybe then he wouldn’t have used so many unnecessary words.

Dividend on Death, of course, introduces Shayne, and is a very entertaining murder mystery. It took me a few days to read, so it was a little slow in parts, but the payoff was worth it.

This Is It, Michael Shayne is one of the Miami books, and, wow, I finished that book in one day. It’s absolutely breathless and races along to a great conclusion that will keep you reading the series even when you find a clunker. Like I said, when Halliday was good, he was GOOD.

So I’m very much looking forward to Murder Is My Business, soon to be published by Hard Case Crime. Maybe this will rekindle some interest in the Mike Shayne books. He’s hard to come by lately. None of the local used bookstores carry the books; luckily, we have eBay and ABEBooks. (In fact, I still kick myself for passing on a big set of Shayne books that one local shop had; before I could save up enough geetus to buy the whole set, the store closed down, and none of the other stores picked up the inventory.)

I should talk about some of the other Shayne media. I’ve never read the comics, but I’ve watched the movies with Lloyd Nolan playing Shayne. They tossed out the books, but the flicks are entertaining and Nolan is a treat to watch. I don’t care for the radio program, especially the Jeff Chandler episodes which took place in New Orleans. They’re generic private eye radio shows like all the others done at the time. I have heard one or two pre-Chandler episodes where Shayne has Lucy Hamilton with him, and those are good, if not a little preachy on the evils of crime.

Eventually Halliday turned the series over to ghost writers, and I've read one or two of those ghosted stories, and enjoyed them. The ghost writers turned Halliday’s excessive wordsmithing into very tight and economical stories. Fun stuff indeed.

So give Brett Halliday and Michael Shayne a try. I think you’ll be very happy with what you experience.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Carroll John Daly Deserves More Respect

Has anybody ever really read anything by Carroll John Daly, or do we just read other people's comments that he was inferior to Hammett and go with it?

If Daly were alive today, he might borrow Rodney Dangerfield's "I can't get no respect" line, and he'd be justified.

Daly was the first to publish what we know as a hard-boiled detective story, and was a huge hit with Black Mask Magazine readers with his character Race Williams, a shoot-first-ask-questions-never private eye.

Daly has been called everything from a poor writer (at the least) to an incompetent writer. Yes, Daly's dialog was awful; his characterizations clumsy or nonexistent; his writing choppy and sometimes incoherent. But when he was good, he was good, and very, very entertaining.

As some of you also know, Dash Hammett published his first story about a month or so after Daly's appeared, and the quality between the two is readily apparent. But I think most critics dislike Daly because he wasn't Hammett, and I think they're upset that Hammett didn't get to the mail box fast enough, and Daly has the "first" title. This kind of critical snobbery is uncalled for.

When Daly had all ten cylinders firing, he wrote well. He wrote a trilogy that's worth looking up, "The Tag Murders", "Tainted Power", and "The Third Murderer". All three are riveting and lead to slam-bang climaxes that will leave you gasping. His five stories in "The Adventures of Race Williams", put out by Mysterious Press back in the '80s, are wonderfully entertaining, and all the dots connect. Yes, the dialog is still weak and characterizations flat, but not always.

Daly deserves better than critics and readers have been giving him. Yes, he wasn't Hammett, but so what? He was his own writer with his own strengths and weaknesses--there's no crime in that. Besides, we already had one Hammett, do we need another?

Aren't there enough imitators as it is?

The Spy Novel Wins; JFK

In my two previous posts I mentioned National Novel Writing Month and how I was trying to decide whether to do a hard-boiled novel or spy story; the spy story won, and I started early, and it's going great, so I'm very happy... so far.

Tonight the History Channel is showing a program on the JFK killing. It's funny that, having followed the various conspiracy theories and the players involved and watching Stone's movie on the subject two or three times, I know the story backwards and forward, but it's something I'll never stop being curious about, because maybe something new has been learned or discovered. I believe it was the History Channel who did another show a few years ago basically debunking the magic bullet, showing that in the way in which Kennedy and Connelly were seated in the limo, diagonally, because of the way the limo's seats were laid out (Kennedy sitting higher, back and to the right of Connelly), one bullet could have indeed gone through both of them as stated in the commission report. It's really the only thing that's made me question the multiple gunman theory, but nobody else has ever acknowledged the program or followed up on the re-enactment the program did. I've also never seen it repeated, which is why I can't remember the title and why I'm not positive it was on the History Channel. If anybody know which program I'm referring to and knows where I can get a video copy, I'd appreciate a tip.

I often wonder if JFK had lived how the world might be different, but the exercise is moot. Things happened the way they happened and some things would have happened anyway. I'm more concerned with who pulled the trigger. Was it really Oswald, acting alone, or a CIA/Mafia/Cuban/Soviet conspiracy? Maybe we'll never know, but one keeps watching JFK programs just in case.